Higher Integration

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Dialogue IX

What will the next levels of human development look like? In their ninth dialogue, guru and pandit take a closer look at the leading edge, asking what an “integral” world view really means and exploring still higher potentials for the evolution of consciousness.

ANDREW COHEN: Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “integral” and wondering what it really means to have an integral perspective. This is obviously what your own work is all about, and it’s a concept that more and more people are becoming familiar with these days. The words “integral” and “second tier” are being used as catchphrases to point to the next stage of development for many of us in this postmodern culture. So I thought it would be good to speak specifically about what integral, or second tier, really means, especially in relationship to the spiritual dimension of life.

My own understanding of integral is that, to put it simply, it points to a more integrated and comprehensive perspective not only on our own experience but on the very structure of the cosmos. But what I want to talk to you about is an important distinction I’ve become aware of between the direct, intuitive recognition of an integrated cosmos and a similar understanding that is more intellectually based.

KEN WILBER: Yes, I understand the distinction. Your talk and your walk.

COHEN: Right. We could call it the difference between looking at the cosmos from the inside out and from the outside in. In this distinction I’m making, we could say that the inside-out perception would be one that was based on a spiritual realization, while the outside-in perception wouldn’t necessarily have any spiritual dimension to it. One reason I’m interested in this is because I have noticed that a lot of people who have a good cognitive grasp of what an integral, or second tier, perspective is seem to lose that perspective when it comes to their own spiritual life. Their spiritual paths often don’t echo or relate directly to the higher, impersonal, evolutionary perspective that second tier cognitive capacities can reveal. A lot of the spirituality can be extremely personally focused and even “new-age.” In short, one finds individuals with very big views who still have narrow spiritual orientations.

WILBER: (Laughs) Well, somebody’s confused!

COHEN: I find it hard to understand how someone can cognitively grasp a second tier, or integral, perspective but embrace a spiritual path that has literally nothing to do with it. So it would be good to go into this question together: What is second tier spirituality? I feel, and I’m sure you would agree, that ultimately as we evolve, especially if we evolve integrally, our spiritual view would be seamlessly interrelated with our world view, with our moral, ethical, and philosophical perspective.

An Integral Map

WILBER: You’ve raised a very interesting point. A lot of people are using developmental models like Spiral Dynamics, based on Clare Graves’ work, or Robert Kegan’s system or Jane Loevinger’s system, and there’s some confusion about what’s called second tier or integral. However we want to define it, it generally refers to the highest levels that any Western model looks at. In Spiral Dynamics, the two highest stages that they recognize are called “yellow” and “turquoise,” and those together are referred to as second tier. In Jane Loevinger’s scale those are roughly equivalent to the levels that she calls “autonomous” and “integrated.” And in Robert Kegan’s five orders of consciousness, second tier would be roughly equivalent to his fifth order.

So these are the highest levels in all the Western models, and therefore many people think that if they are doing spiritual work, they must be second tier. But actually, if you look at the descriptions in any of these models, second tier isn’t really spiritual. Take, for example, the yellow and turquoise levels in Spiral Dynamics—neither of them is what we would really recognize as non dual or mystical or transpersonal or transrational. What they call yellow is actually entirely secular, and its descriptions of the world are very systemic—everything is interrelated—but it’s just an ecological world view without any un manifest or unborn or even spiritual kind of dimension. At turquoise, people say things like, “The earth is a single organism with one consciousness.” Now this starts to sound spiritual, and in a certain way I suppose it is, but it’s not a direct experience. It’s still just an idea.

The point is that there are higher stages than that, if you actually look at the traditions and at cutting-edge research. But higher stages are extremely rare, so they just don’t tend to show up in the research most psychologists are doing. It’s not necessarily a fault of the Western models that I just mentioned, because they basically reported what they found. It’s just the rarity of people at these stages.

If you take Sri Aurobindo’s consciousness stages as a point of comparison—he has about ten or eleven—what he calls “higher mind” would be equivalent to what Spiral Dynamics would call second tier, or yellow and turquoise. But above higher mind there is illumined mind, then intuitive mind, then overmind, then supermind, and then satchitananda, the ever-present oneness. There are at least four or five stages up there that are higher than second tier. So second tier is sometimes referred to as “integral” only because it’s more integral than first tier. But these higher stages will be even more integral, all the way to satchitananda, which is like superintegral, including everything.

COHEN: Yes, absolute integration.

WILBER: Exactly. We could use the term “third tier” for whatever stages are higher than second tier—illumined mind, intuitive mind, overmind, and supermind, for example, as actual, permanent developmental stages. But the thing about second tier is that it’s a great base camp for all higher development. If you don’t have a really good foundation there, when you get to these higher stages, they won’t stick very well.

COHEN: Yes, and what I’m saying is that a lot of people who do seem to have a well-established systems, or integrated, world view—

WILBER: Well, cognitively.

COHEN: Yes—which is, relatively speaking, quite a big deal—

WILBER:—don’t have their personal or transpersonal act together. Well, that gets us to a second point, which is that the cognitive line of development—which is usually necessary but not sufficient for other development—can run quite ahead of the individual’s center of gravity. So there are a lot of people talking integral because that’s just what’s out there. And everybody wants to be integral. But if somebody is integral cognitively, they can still have a center of gravity, frankly, that’s several stages lower. It happens quite often. And it’s a little disorienting because they talk one thing and walk another.

COHEN: Yes. It’s a strange mix and it certainly is disorienting, because for most of us, our deepest emotionally based convictions tend to be our spiritual convictions. So when one cognitively has a second tier understanding but one is emotionally identified with the sentimental and even superstitious spiritual beliefs of a lower level—

WILBER:—it’s a problem.

COHEN: There’s this dissonance—because there’s a profound contradiction between a second tier perspective and the emotionally based spiritual convictions of a lower stage.

WILBER: That’s a real concern. And nobody has stated that caution more strongly than I have in my own works. I tell people that if you understand my books, you’re at least up to second tier, cognitively. But that doesn’t guarantee anything, because again, you can simply think that way but your center of gravity could be lower.

So my work is just a map. And, of course, you don’t want to confuse the map with the territory. But maps are extraordinarily helpful. After all, do you really want to go into Antarctica or Africa without a map? But I’m concerned about people merely taking this map and by learning it thinking that somehow they have awakened to the territory. The map is self-critical though, in that it says, “Here’s a presentation that’s roughly, to use Aurobindo’s terms, higher mind to illumined mind. But above that, you have really got to push into intuitive mind, overmind, supermind, satchitananda. And it’s going to take your own realization and your own work and your own practice, and I recommend spiritual teachers for this because you’re going to delude yourself all the way up. You’ve got to have somebody basically boxing your ears, so get ready for that—it’s a lot of fun.”

COHEN: You can say that again!

WILBER: Like I said, second tier is really just a base camp. If you actually get oriented, get a good grounding there, then you can start unfolding it from within and actually make it a first-person realization and not a third-person map. So “integral” for most people right now means intellectually pushing into second tier. But that’s just a good start. There’s so much more work to do. The percentage of people stably at second tier is one half percent of the U.S. population! So it’s really going uphill. I mean, the center of gravity in this culture is still very much what we would call first tier. So what we’re trying to do is really orient people to second tier and then push them into third tier. What happens in what we’re calling second tier is that people become self-aware of integral. Evolution becomes aware of itself. And it’s a huge leap. That’s why so many psychologists refer to the “leap” or “jump” from first tier to second tier. So we call second tier integral because it self-consciously becomes integral.

COHEN: Yes. When it becomes self-consciously integral, that’s when it’s from the inside out, right? That’s the beginning.

WILBER: That’s when it begins. So we have two things going on here. You can talk second tier, but your walk—your center of gravity—can still be first tier. That’s extremely common now. But when you get your walk and your talk at second tier, there’s still third tier waiting. And really, you have to keep going on into third tier. And then integral will flow out of yourself and into the world; it will start embracing everything, and not just as an altered state but as a permanent trait.

COHEN: Yes. And when the integral perspective meets a third tier, or enlightened, state of consciousness, our understanding of what that state is and what it means will actually begin to change. The traditional definitions will be replaced by new ones that are more integrated, that are endeavoring to embrace all of manifestation. This is what really sets my heart on fire—when our understanding and expression of enlightenment itself begins to evolve in real time, right before our very eyes.

WILBER: I think that’s exactly what begins to happen.

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Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber

Andrew Cohen: guru. Evolutionary thinker and spiritual pathfinder. Self-described “idealist with revolutionary inclinations.” Cohen, founder of What Is Enlightenment? magazine, is a spiritual teacher and author widely recognized as a defining voice in the emerging field of evolutionary spirituality. Over the last decade in the pages of WIE, Cohen has brought together leading thinkers from East and West—mystics and materialists, philosophers and psychologists—to explore the significance of a new spirituality for the new millennium. His books include Embracing Heaven & Earth and Living Enlightenment. Ken Wilber: pandit. A scholar who is deeply proficient and immersed in spiritual wisdom. Self-described “defender of the dharma; intellectual samurai.” Hailed as “the Einstein of consciousness,” Wilber is one of the most highly regarded philosophers alive today, and his work offers a comprehensive and original synthesis of the world's great psychological, philosophical, and spiritual traditions. Author of numerous books, including Sex, Ecology, Spirituality and A Brief History of Everything, Wilber is the founder of Integral Institute and a regular contributor to WIE.

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